The Three Sacred Rivers of India
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The Three Sacred Rivers of India

The three sacred rivers of India are the Ganges River, the Yamuna River and the River of Saraswati. The Ganges river is the largest river of the Indian subcontinent, flowing east through the Gangetic Plain of northern India into Bangladesh. The beautiful Yamuna River is India's most sacred river flows through the transcendental land of Vrindavana. The Sarasvati River is one of the chief Rigvedic Rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts.


The three sacred rivers of India are the Ganges River, the Yamuna River and the River of Saraswati.

The Ganges River

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The Ganges River is the largest river of the Indian subcontinent, flowing east through the Gangetic Plain of northern India into Bangladesh. The 2,510 km (1,560 mi) river rises in the western Himalayas in the Uttarakhand. It has long been considered the holiest of all rivers by Hindus and worshiped as the goddess Ganga in Hinduism. It has also been important historically: many former provincial or imperial capitals (such as Patliputra, Kannauj, Kara, Allahabad, Murshidabad, Berhampore and Calcutta) have been located on its banks. The Ganges Basin drains 1,000,000-square-kilometre (390,000 sq mi) and supports one of the world's highest density of humans. The average depth of the river is 52 feet (16 m), and the maximum depth, 100 feet (30 m). The river has been declared as India's National River.

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Situated on the banks of River Ganges, Varanasi is considered by some to be the holiest city in Hinduism. The Ganges is mentioned in the Rig-Veda, the earliest of the Hindu scriptures. It appears in the Nadistuti sukta (Rig Veda 10.75), which lists the rivers from east to west. Also, people scatter ashes of loved ones here. George Harrison of The Beatles had his ashes scattered in the Ganges river by his family in a private ceremony soon after his death.

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Some Hindus also believe life is incomplete without taking a bath in Ganges River at least once in their lives. Many Hindu families keep a vial of water from the Ganges River in their house. This is done because it is prestigious to have water of the Holy Ganges in the house, and also so that if someone is dying, that person will be able to drink its water. Many Hindus believe that the water from the Ganges can cleanse a person's soul of all past sins, and that it can also cure the ill. The ancient scriptures mention that the water of Ganges carries the blessings of Lord Vishnu's feet; hence Mother Ganges is also known as Vishnupadi, which means "Emanating from the Lotus feet of Supreme Lord Sri Vishnu."

Yamuna River

"Simply by bathing in the Yamuna, anyone can diminish the reactions of his sinful activities." (Krishna Book, Chap 38)

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The beautiful Yamuna River is India's most sacred river that flows through the transcendental land of Vrindavana.

Yamunotri, which is north of Haridwar in the Himalayas Mountains, is where the holy Yamuna River begins. It is about 234 km north of Haridwar. Technically, the source of the Yamuna is Saptarishi Kund, a glacial lake. To get there you have to climb from Yamunotri 12 km right up the mountain. From Yamunotri, the Yamuna flows south until it reaches Delhi. It then flows to Braja Mandala through Vrindavana and Mathura. From there it goes through Agra and eventually merges with the Ganges and the underground Saraswati at Prayag (Allahabad).

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The main reason it is so sacred is because it flows through Vrindavana and Mathura, and was thus intimately connected to Lord Krishna's pastimes.

The Yamuna River and the Ganges River are considered the most sacred rivers in India.

"As far as sanctity is concerned, the River Yamuna is more directly connected with Lord Krishna than the Ganges. The Lord sanctified the River Yamuna from the beginning of His transcendental pastimes in the world. While His father Vasudeva was crossing the Yamuna with baby Lord Krishna for a safe place at Gokula on the other bank of the river from Mathura, the Lord fell down in the river, and by the dust of His lotus feet the river at once became sanctified." (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.19.6)

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A bath in this river is said to be one hundred times more purifying than a bath in the Ganges. Even though the Ganges was once touched by the feet of Lord Vishnu, it was the Yamuna River where Lord Krishna Himself played and swam with His cowherd boyfriends. He also sported in its waters with the beautiful gopi damsels of Vraja.

The traditional bathing place of most pilgrims is at Kesi ghata, where Lord Krishna bathed after killing the Kesi demon. The Yamuna has been flowing here at Kesi ghata since ancient times. One who takes bath in the river Yamuna is freed from all past sins and contamination of this material world. That person will also gradually become a pure devotee and achieve liberation by returning to the spiritual world to personally associate with Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

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According to legend, the Yamuna is the daughter of Surya and Sharanyu and the twin sister of Yama, the god of Death. It is said that Sharanyu, unable to bear the luster of the quivering Surya, closed her eyes upon which he cursed her. It was then that Yamuna was born. The Yamuna is thus also known as the quivering river.

The River of Saraswati

The Sarasvati River is one of the chief Rigvedic Rivers mentioned in ancient Hindu texts. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda mentioned the Sarasvati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later Vedic texts like Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas as well as the Mahabharata mention that the Sarasvati dried up in a desert. The goddess Sarasvati was originally a personification of this river, but later developed an independent identity and meaning.

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References to the Sarasvati River in the Rigveda are identified with the present-day Ghaggar River, although the Indus River as a possible locus of early Rigvedic references has been discussed in the literature.

According to the Mahabharata, the Sarasvati dried up in a desert (at a place named Vinasana or Adarsana), after having disappeared in the desert, reappears in some places, and joins the sea "impetuously". The Mahabharata locates Kurukshetra to the south of the Sarasvati and north of the Drishadvati.

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Saraswati – The Ancient River Lost in the Desert

NEARLY ten thousand years ago when mighty rivers started flowing down the Himalayan slopes, western Rajasthan was green and fertile. Great civilizations prospered in the cool amiable climate on riverbanks of northwestern India. The abundant waters of the rivers and copious rains provided ample sustenance for their farming and other activities. Some six thousand years later, Saraswati, one of the rivers of great splendor in this region, for reasons long enigmatic, dwindled and dried up. Several other rivers shifted their courses; some of their tributaries were ‘pirated’ by neighboring rivers or severed from their main courses. The greenery of Rajasthan was lost, replaced by an arid desert where hot winds piled up dunes of sand. The flourishing civilizations vanished one by one. By geological standards, these are small-scale events; for earth, in its long 4.5 billion years history, had witnessed many such changes, some of them even accompanied by wiping out of several living species. But those that occurred in northwest India took place within the span of early human history affecting the livelihood of flourishing civilizations and driving them out to other regions.


Jitender Gupta

A section of the freshly demarcated course of the Saraswati River in Haryana

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Nov. 24, 2008

• A born-again Saraswati is dug for HaryanaHaryana's Congress government has demarcated 52 km of the Saraswati river's presumed ancient course from Gajnala to Pipli

• Rs 10 crore has been sanctioned, with plans to constitute a Saraswati Development Authority

• Huge benefits are linked to the project

When the BJP-led NDA government launched a project to revive the ancient—some say mythical—river Saraswati in 2002, it attracted much flak for wasting public money in an attempt to rewrite history. But six years later the Saraswati project has sprung back—this time with the blessings of the Haryana government, now run by the Congress which was once critical of it. And collaborating closely with the state government is Darshan Lal Jain, president of Haryana-based Saraswati Nadi Shodh Sansthan (SNSS) and RSS state president till 2007.

Haryana's irrigation department finished digging up and demarcating 52 km of what it claims is the ancient river's course in Kurukshetra. "Saraswati is a sacred river of great importance," says state irrigation minister Captain Ajay Singh Yadav. "Satellite images have shown its course runs along with the Ghuggar River. Our goal is to develop it as a proper river. The department even organized a national seminar last month—where Jain shared the dais with Yadav—on Saraswati's revival. The reasons behind the project are twofold: recharge plummeting groundwater levels and develop religious tourism around the river's course in Haryana. Ground water levels have touched as low as 150 feet here. Therefore, unlike many brick-lined canals, the walls of the new river's course would be left untouched to allow water to permeate into the ground and recharge nearby water levels. The 'spiritual' and electoral benefits of the project could be enormous in Haryana, where the river is often described as the "poor man's Ganges".

"The river exists for us here. All people want is its revival and proper upkeep. Even the state government did not doubt its existence. All they asked us was how its revival would benefit the state," says Jain. The official acknowledgement from the government with a plan to revive the Saraswati has encouraged groups like SNSS and the Chennai-based Saraswati Research Centre, who has been campaigning to revive the river they claim once, flowed a thousand years ago from Mansarovar to the Rann of Kutch.



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Comments (6)
Ranked #3 in India

Awesome pictures!

wow.. you really covered a lot of points here. The rivers are extremely important to the people both to supply water and for cultural reasons too!

An excellent read Ron.

Ron, my wife was born in Dehra Dun in Northern India, and she has NEVER know that there were THREE sacred she says thanks for your lovely pics and article!

Ranked #7 in India

Just revisited for review, thanks everyone, read, votes and comments are highly appreciated.

Ranked #2 in India

Very informative and interesting !